Updated: Aug 23, 2020
Psychoactive Medicine: The Third Wave of Psychedelics by Laurie Maddox
Entheogens include a variety of substances referred to as hallucinogens, psychedelics, and sacred plant medicines. The term “entheogen” was introduced by Carl Ruck as an alternative to more pejorative terms such as “hallucinogen” and “psychedelic”. In Shamanism: An Encyclopedia of World Beliefs, Mark Hoffman and Carl Ruck define entheogen as “any substance that, when ingested, catalyzes or generates an altered state of consciousness deemed to have spiritual significance.” Similarly, Stanislav Grof has described psychedelics as "nonspecific amplifiers of consciousness".
The historical and current use of psychedelics demonstrate their spiritual significance and indicate that many can be taken safety when used ceremonially. The substances remain illegal in many countries, but in the US these bans are being challenged when taken as part of one's religious practice, based on the belief that hallucinogenic plants and substances have medicinal value, previously denied.
In a few countries, including the US, certain uses and practices are accommodated though the US drug law exemption. The use of peyote and ayahuasca, for example have been granted limited immunity by the DEA within certain religious and racial groups, such as Native Americans and Santo Daime. A genuine respect for religious freedom as guaranteed by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the US Constitution would seem to require that such accommodations be adopted universally, without regard to race or creed, for the traditional plant medicines and other substances of comparable safety.
Well-crafted policies and practices would support the anti-drug-abuse objectives of the current drug laws, mitigate potential for risk or harm, and limit the potential for abuses by organizations or people who offer such experiences unregulated. If this can be accomplished, spiritual communities and individuals will be free to work out for themselves the proper role of psychoactive substances to evolve beneficial contexts for their use.
Research on the safety of psychedelics continues to shows promise to one day replace the psychotropic prescription paradigm of the Western model of medicine. Psychedelic treatments are fast advancing and set to be the first line of defense in bridging the psychological and spiritual aspects of self. Experiences of divine union or a sense of love, peace and unity with universal consciousness has implications for spiritual awakening and a sense of gratitude can be seen as coextensive with positive indicators for mental balance.
Plant medicines and other psychoactive substances show promise for both psychological healing and spiritual awakening. Clients who seek experiential growth through psychedelics are often looking for relief from addiction or traumas, like PTSD--or seeking personal transformation of long-standing emotional patterns.
Psychoactive medicines help clients wanting to work on different issues, problems, challenges and goals, for personal growth, and to spark creativity. Additionally they give people a direct experience of unity consciousness. Some feel that plant medicines have a sentience that relays information via the botanical glandular bridge activating a synergistic reaction that provides the exact kind of experience a person needs in their life at that moment. Others conceptualize of the psychedelic experience as a flowering of one’s natural intelligence, or accessing one's higher Self. The potential for healing is vast!
1) Peyote- a small spineless cactus. Used in Mesoamerica for 2000 years and still used by the Huichol Indians of Mexico. In 1994, the US House of Representatives found peyote “not injurious” and stated that “spiritual and social support provided by the Native American Church (NAC) has been effective in combating the tragic effects of alcoholism among the Native American population”.
2) Psilocybin mushrooms- Mushroom carvings and artifacts found in Guatemala and southeastern. Mexico date religious mushroom use as far back as 1000 b.c. The Spanish conquerers reported teonanactl , or “sacred mushrooms” to be of deep importance to indigenous religious life, their use continues to the present in some areas.
3) Ayahuasca- the name ayahuasca, meaning "vine of souls" (also called yage /caapi) describes teas or infusions made from combinations of Amazonian botanicals.
4) India’s Soma- One of the oldest known texts, the Rig-Veda praises a mind-altering substance called soma. 120 Sanskrit hymns are devoted to extolling the virtues of soma and soma preparations. In 1968, Gordon Wasson published his research (Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality) identifying soma as the psychoactive mushroom Amanita muscaria.
5) Iboga- Centered in the West African Republic of Gabon a 150 year-old syncretic Christian sect called Bwiti gives new initiates the sacrament—a powdered root bark of Tabernanthe iboga (i.e. ibogaine) which stimulates a beatific vision and sense of rebirth.
6) The Kykeon of Eleusis- Used in Greece as part of the Eleusinian Mystery rites held annually in Athens for nearly 2000 years.
7) Cannabis- (hemp, marijuana) It has been used in ancient Taoist, Vedic, and Sufi practices among others. Formal spiritual use continues among certain groups including Coptic, Rastafarian, and Hindu traditions. Studies indicate more Americans used cannabis than all other non-prescription drugs combined.
8) LSD- In 1943 Albert Hoffman synthesized d-lysergic acid diethylamide . At first known as an experimental psychiatric drug, it became known as a recreational drug in the 1960’s when popularized by Harvard professor Timothy Leary, and his books: Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out & The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
9) MDMA - The German pharmaceutical company Merck first synthesized methylene-dioxymethamphetamine in the early 1900’s. In the late 1970’s psychologists and psychiatrists in the US and Europe started quietly using MDMA in psychotherapy. Shortly after MDMA emerged as “ecstasy” mixed with a cocktail of other substances in dance clubs and raves in unsupervised settings for recreational use. MDMA appears to be on the fast track for legalization for use in clinical settings for the relief of depression. It has show consistent promise and significant results for alleviating the emotional suffering associated with depression.